“O righteous God, Who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.”—Psalm 7:9
We, participants of the International Solidarity Mission implore our just Creator to help his temporal servants bring justice and peace to our Banwaon sisters and brothers in Barangay Balit, San Luis, Agusan del Sur, Philippines currently suffering from acts of the wicked.
Our Banwaon brethren of about a thousand souls belonging to 174 families are being persecuted since the 26th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) launched its so-called Community Organizing for Peace and Development (COPD) in the last quarter of 2014. They are forced to abandon their homes, farms and forests to save themselves, especially their children, from relentless persecution by state forces. They now suffer woeful conditions in an evacuation center, unheeded by civilian government officials and institutions mandated to care for them.
Inhumane persecution from state forces
Our mission documented 93 cases of human rights violations, including indiscriminate firing, restriction of movement, gun-touting, destruction and divestment of properties, use of public facilities for military purposes, use of civilians as guides or human shields, fake surrenders, threats, harassments, and intimidation against the Banwaon in San Luis. Barangay Balit Chairperson Necasio Precioso was extra-judicially killed on December 22, 2015 while on his way to a dialogue at the Municipal Hall on the issue of the soldiers’ illegal and unwelcome stay in his community. We unearthed the killing of Salcinita Manlapinding and her nephew Oto Precioso last year by the paramilitary group Mabantag led by Narding Pascual, a CAFGU member. Women and children suffer the most from these evil acts perpetrated by the 26th IBPA stationed in the Banwaon communities of San Luis.
The mission confirmed and documented the encampment of elements of the 26th IBPA at the barangay hall of Barangay Nuevo Trabajo and near the barangay hall of Barangay Balit, in violation of official pronouncements and the international humanitarian law enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. These acts are also immoral as their presence in civilian communities terrifies the populace, especially women and children.
Inhumane conditions at the evacuation center
Since their evacuation four children have died because of diseases and the lack of necessary medical attention. The evacuees live in a constricted place without livelihood, limited source of clean water, and woeful lack of hygiene facilities. They suffer from cough, fever, dysentery, urinary tract infection, and hypertension as a result. They find it difficult to cope with daytime heat and nighttime cold. They are emotionally stressed by their condition and lack of proper nutrition that make them more susceptible to even the most common of diseases.
The medical clinic conducted during our mission served 108 patients, 40 of whom were offered more consultations and check-ups because of the severity of their ailments. At least 150 children participated in the play sessions we organized as part of our psycho-social interventions to try to lessen their emotional and mental traumas. The children shared their hardships during their evacuation to Balit when they had to walk for two days. They complain about the lack of food in the evacuation center, unlike in their communities where they were at least innocent of such depravity. Even the children know the AFP and its COPD cruelly drove them away from their communities.
Inhumane violation of their rights
The Banwaon’s refusal to apply for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) must be respected and not considered as a subversive decision. They have collectively decided not to surrender their age-old stewardship of their ancestral domains to a piece of paper. Experience has taught them that a mere certificate means nothing in the face of destructive activities such as large-scale mining and logging by local and foreign corporations. They know that such so-called developments are only implemented by intimidation and force of arms by the state and its forces, as evidenced by a pangayaw (tribal war) against them by a paramilitary group led by a fellow Banwaon who is also a CAFGU (Citizen’s Armed Forces Geographical Unit) para-military.
The Banwaon loathe the COPD in their communities and territory. They have not given it a community-defined free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). It is clear that the military forced their will and way in complete disregard to universally accepted indigenous peoples’ rights. Fourteen communities are abandoned and cultural and traditional structures are endangered as a result.
Our conclusions and demands
We express our deep disappointment with the inaction and lack of concern of the local government unit of San Luis to the plight of the Banwaon evacuees in Barangay Balit. They refuse to act on the petitions of the victims against the illegal and immoral military encampments of military units. To date, they have only given 20 sacks of rice to the evacuees, good only for a day when the evacuation is already several weeks long.
We condemn the inutility and criminal inaction of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). According to the evacuees, the NCIP still has to pay them a visit, even when they are legally and morally obligated to do so.
We support the Banwaon currently in Balit who we regard not as hapless evacuees but as an indigenous people bravely fighting for their rights to land, life, resources and self-determination. We support them not only with the humble things we have given them but as comrades in their struggles as well. We share their dreams of being back in their communities to serve as true stewards of their lands and its blessings. We lend our voices to their demand that the 26th IBPA and the paramilitary groups leave them in peace and at once. We demand justice for the martyrs of their struggles and accountability for the perpetrators of the killings and other human rights violations, not the least of which is the government cruelly violent against this country’s most peaceful yet neglected citizens.
For “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” (Proverbs 21:15)
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We are indigenous peoples from other parts of Mindanao and the Philippines, church leaders and workers, health workers, mass media workers, youth and students, and human rights defenders from the organizations of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Network on Extractive Industries and Energy (AIPNE), Kalumbay regional lumad organization, Philippine Task Force for Indigenous People (PTFIP), Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), Missionary Sisters of Mary (MSM), Karapatan-North Mindanao Region, Karapatan-Caraga, Kasalo, Council of Health for Development (CHD), Community-Based Health Services (CBHS), Kalumaran Mindanao, League of Filipino Students (MSU–IIT & Bukidnon), Liga ng Kabataang Moro-Marawi, lawyers, various and others.
09 March 2015, Balit, San Luis, Agusan Del Sur
(More stories at http://www.rmp-nmr.org/)